Review: The Midnight Gospel

Adventure Time animator Pendleton Ward and comedian/podcaster Duncan Trussell have collaborated to create a genuinely very odd eight episode series for Netflix. I’m not familiar with Duncan Trussell’s work but the premise of the show is simply taking some episodes of his conversational podcast and translating them into the vivid illogic of the Adventure Time style animation. The combined effect is startlingly good.

The premise of the show features Clancy (Duncan Trussell) a personally-adrift young man who has moved to the Escher-like Ribbon world to live in a caravan and use a possibly illegal multiverse-simulator to find people to interview for his podcast. Clancy’s interview are the repurposed Trussell podcasts with the interviewees transformed into various kinds of bizarre characters living on equally odd planets.

Visually, each episode goes off on its own adventures, as if the auditory sense and visual sense are plugged into two different but synchronised tracks. Episode 1, for example, has a prolonged discussion about whether its possible to divide recreational drugs into good and bad. However, behind the meandering conversation, Clancy is attempting to interview the tiny (but charismatic) President of the United States during a zombie apocalypse. That apocalypse has its own story line, with a giant-kaiju sized zombie eating the Whitehouse, scientists furiously working on a cure, a pregnant woman mourning the death of her handsome partner and so on.

We also get to visit:

  • A Clown World where the interviewees are grazing animals who get turn into processed meat (and carry on the conversation) while in the background is revealed a society controlled by spider-clown parasites fighting an underground resitance movement.
  • A treasure hunting sea captain whose head is a fishbowl and who has a ship crewed by cats in cute sailor uniforms.
  • A barbarian woman on a hellish fantasy world with a blood drinking magic rose weapon, on a request to restore her beheaded boyfriend.
  • Death herself (who has been living inside Clancy’s bag)
  • A prisoner in a prison for simulated being with existential dread who must go through a Buddhist cycle of death-and-rebirth in a kind of video-game like attempt to escape from the prison. The interviewee is a tiny bird that is the psychopomp for the prisoner’s soul.

The visual stories and the interviews sometimes contrast, sometimes are almost separate and other times mesh very closely.

The final episode is an interview between Trussell and his mother who at the time was terminally ill. Presented as Clancy talking to a simulation of his deceased mother it ties together the various discussions about death, spirituality, meditation and acceptance in a way that very powerfully demonstrates the effectiveness of the shows technique.

There is a fairly thin framing plot with continuity between the episodes and connecting characters. However, this is very much a show to dip in and out of rather than binge watch. The less interesting, more self-indulgent interviews are carried by the visuals. The strongest episodes are carried by the characters of the interviewees.

What is it like? The Guardian compared it to the old British kid’s cartoon Mr Benn but think Yellow Submarine’s psychedelia or the Heavy Metal movie but with a spoken word soundtrack. It is deeply introspective and also self-critical. Clancy latches on to the ideas of his interviewees as deep personal revelations but we get to see that he is just enamoured by shiny new things, often treating the most recent attempt at wisdom as the latest consumer goods. Meanwhile, he avoids dealing with more concrete problems — including the maintenance of his multiverse simulator where increasingly worlds are appearing lifeless due to his neglect.

I enjoyed watching the whole thing in order but you could just skip to Episode 8 (the final episode) if you wanted. I also particularly enjoyed episodes 4 and 5 for the combination of interview and visual story. Episode 6 is the only episode where the framing story is stronger and fun in its own right and is closest to the idea of an Adventure Time for grown-ups. Episode 7 had the most interesting interviewee I found, (Caitlin Doughty as Death talking about attitudes towards death and the commercialisation of death) but a less coherent visual story (which was good for the episode because I was more focused on the interview).

Pyschedelic, weird and a strong vibe of 1960s/70s underground comics.

The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow (Hugo 2020 Finalist)

Middlegame (my previous review) was not a portal fantasy but it was a story partly in dialogue with the genre through it’s book-within-a-book, references to The Wizard of Oz and some its similarities to Seanan McGuire’s Wayward Children series. I should have planned my reading a bit better and picked a story with a greater contrast but instead I plunged into Alix E. Harrow’s debut novel The Ten Thousand Doors of January.

Harrow has also enjoyed previous success with shorter fiction looking looking at portal fantasies with a slight metafictional twist in A Witch’s Guide to Escape: A Practical Compendium of Portal Fantasies which was a 2019 Hugo winner and Nebula finalist. Aside from the theme, this novel takes a different premise, imagining portals not literally within books but as manifest doors that lead to other worlds which are mundane within their own terms but magical relative to each other.

Like the earlier short story, this is a story that takes its time to establish very physical sense of place. Set (mainly) in America at the turn of the century, Harrow makes use of a first person narration and a book-within-a-book to colour in multiple worlds using evocative descriptive language. We don’t (unsurprisingly) visit ten thousand worlds (I think three are described in any depth) but we do get a very grounded sense of the reality of each of them as distinct places.

January is a girl/young woman growing up in the sprawling mansion of a wealthy and powerful American gentleman. Her father works for the man travelling the world to find exotic curios and antiques that fill the huge house. However, mysteries surrounds her father’s origin and January herself is regarded as exotic and foreign by guest at the mansion.

She slowly learns more about her possible secret origins when she finds a mysterious, type-written book entitled ‘The Ten Thousand Doors‘. This book recounts the story of an American woman from the rural south who, in her youth, discovers a magical doorway in a field an falls in love with a young man who has stepped through it. The subsequent search for other doors and an account of the young man’s own life in another world run as a parallel story to January’s as she herself uncovers the mysteries around her.

I’ve seen reviews that describe the prose as lyrical and it certainly mixes beautiful prose with striking images, such as a women building a boat on top of a mountain or a makeshift city of ruins behind a cloak of feathers. That combination is a winning one, giving a powerful sense of magic and mystery throughout.

It isn’t a book of many surprises though. Given the initial premise most of the twists and reveals are not unsurprising to the reader even if it makes perfect sense that the protagonist doesn’t see them coming. It takes a long time for things to happen and that’s fine if you are after a book that you can wallow in like a warm bath of descriptive prose. However, the book manages to capture a sense of both the familiar and the unusual as if reading the book the first time is not unlike rereading a favourite book.

I would have liked to learn more about the villains of the story and beyond January and her parents, I felt the other characters were drawn fairly thinly (a flaw it shares with Middlegame). I may have misunderstood but there’s also an odd implication that January ends up being responsible for the cataclysmic events of 1914 to 1918 or perhaps most of the upheaval of the twentieth century.

Good? Yes. I absolutely see why this got nominated and it is exactly the sort of book that will be absolutely cherished by many readers. It’s not going to displace my current top picks in this category though.

I listened to the audio book version of the novel, which itself was a finalist for Best Female Narrator in the Audie Awards and won Best Fantasy Audio Book in those same awards (https://www.audiopub.org/winners/2020-audies ). Narrated by January LaVoy (yes, same first name as the protagonist) it really was wonderfully read.

Minor spoiler about a dog…


I should add, the book also features a very good dog called Bad (short for Sinbad). The dog is hurt during the story but I know that many people prefer to know in advance that the dog survives, which he does.

Train to Busan and the Comfort of Disaster

As part of the ongoing Blog Challenge Project, Shaun Duke wrote a rewatch review of Danny Boyle’s hyper-tense zombie movie 28 Days Later. Entitled “28 Days Later and the Delicious Comfort of Disaster” it very neatly encapsulates the counter-intuitive trend for people to be drawn to zombie and disease films during a pandemic.

‘As I mentioned, re-watching this film in the middle of a pandemic has added some interesting dimensions of comfort and terror. These simultaneously (and contradictorily) operate through two components:
1. The setting is a “worst case scenario,” which is always worse than wherever we happen to be in the now.
2. The story is deeply “human.”’

https://shaunduke.net/2020/04/thedeliciouscomfortofdisaster/

I’m a big fan of 28 Days Later, partly because it knowingly plays on one of my favourite novels The Day of the Triffids but also because it is so tense and scary. Focused on a quartet of survivors in an abandoned Britain, the zombies are “rage’ infected living people. The implication is that the actual pandemic will end once the infected all starve to death but somehow that only makes the film both more bleak and horrific.

Yeon Sang-ho’s 2016 contribution to the zombie movie genre similarly focuses on a core quartet of people attempting to survive during a zombie outbreak. However, unlike 28 Day’s Later paired back depiction the film fully indulges in zombies as an inhuman mass of violent bodies. The violence is more frequent and the confrontation between the protagonists and the undead is almost constant once it gets underway.

Where 28 Days Later explicitly ties the infection to human violence and social instability, Train to Busan presents the immediate spread of a zombie outbreak as a social metaphor. Overworked fund manager Seok-woo (Gong Yoo) is taking his daughter from Seoul to see her mother in Busan (from whom he is divorced due to the relationship collapsing because of his work commitments). On board the same train is Seong-kyeong (Jung Yu-mi) and her pugilistic working-class husband Sang-hwa (Ma Dong-seok). Unbeknownst to all of them, Seoul is the epicentre of a horrific zombie outbreak (the cause of which is never explained).

The course of the outbreak is initially watched as news reports on the train TVs and via people’s phones. Initially presented as civil unrest, the scale and nature of the infection rapidly becomes clear but only as the train itself becomes infected. What follows is both a tense action film and a social examination. At one end is Sang-hwa, a down to earth man who is mainly trying to keep his pregnant wife safe but throughout helps others. In contrast, Yon-suk is the COO of the train company and coincidentally a passenger: throughout his cynical and selfish actions compound the danger of the zombies even as he claims to act for the greater good. Between them, morally is Seok-woo who initially attempts to convince his daughter that survival at the expense of others is the only thing that matters (this after she gives up her seat for an elderly passenger).

‘Message fiction’ is an oft derided term but Train to Busan makes no apologies for it’s core theme: in a crisis we should help one another not just for moral reasons but because it is the essence of survival. The film doesn’t play favourites though, the shitty COO survives for longer than many of the ‘nice’ characters. Other’s let grief overwhelm them and others die holding back hordes of rabid zombies so that others can escape. Yet in the end it is hope and humanity that survives.

Losing and finding humanity runs through the film both as the accident of being bitten by a zombie but also by the toll of surviving the corporate ladder. Seok-woo is chided by his daughter for his selfishness and more neatly summed up by Sang-hwa who just calls names him “asshole”* Yet, it is cooperation that keeps them alive — most notably when Seok-woo, Sang-hwa and a young baseball player have to fight their way through infected carriages.

Neatly balancing big set-pieces (and horrific zombie hordes) with a very person focused survival story, this is one of my favourite zombie films. Unique and familiar it is well worth a watch.

*[Except in Korean obviously. I’m going off the subtitles]

Larry Correia bullshits about anti-infection measures

To be fair to the ÜberPuppy (and I do try to be fair) he’s largely avoided some of the worst nonsense of his erstwhile colleagues. Some of his posts on the topic of covid-19 have even verged on the sensible. He’s not the one we can expect quack cures or the more outlandish conspiracy theories from. However, when his ‘side’ keeps repeatedly making fools of themselves, there’s a point where he can’t just taking it any more and has to find a way to argue that no-no-its-the-left-that-are-the-stupidheads.

Today he is attempting to defend the Hoyt-style anti-lockdown protestors by linking their demands with the potential of pandemic-related famine in third-world nations.

“But don’t worry, if millions of poor people starve in the third world now, the same smug fucks who’ve been yelling at us to shut down everything for the last couple of months will take zero blame for that. I’m willing to bet that when/if this happens, they’ll still be out there, signalling their virtue from their comfy homes, because They Care So Hard.”

https://monsterhunternation.com/2020/04/23/perspective/

Says Larry, busy signalling his virtue from his comfy home. Despite never showing much concern for the food security of third-world nations, now the people of the developing world have a new champion in Larry Correia. Not that he has any solution to the possible food shortages other than vaguely attacking people who are criticising other people who want an end to the US measures (endorsed by a conservative federal government) designed to limit the impact of the pandemic.

“But that’s okay. You guys with the spicy memes, and your work from home jobs, and savings in the bank, just keep on pretending that everything is simple. Right/wrong, good/evil, black/white, your shit don’t stink, and anybody who disagrees with your hot take, well it can only be because they’re a fool. That guy who lost his job, business, and is worried about losing his house, or how he’s gonna feed his kids? He’s dumb. You’re the real champion.”

https://monsterhunternation.com/2020/04/23/perspective/

And so on. Rather like the “comfy home” jibe, the response is remarkably self-descriptive. While trying to avoid overtly supporting the anti-lockdown protests (so he can later say that he never did), his argument absolutely depends on pretending that everything is simple. The simplicity is the same error we see from the anti-lockdown protestors and can be summed up in a set of fallacies:

FALLACY ONE: The anti-lockdown fallacy: There’s no bad economic consequences to ending lockdown/social-distancing measures and all the bad economic outcomes currently (and projected) are due to those measures.

It’s a massive fallacy and once you identify it you can see it everywhere, not just among ideological extremists like Hoyt (for example) but even in more mainstream news. The truth is that an uncontrolled pandemic would 1. have severe economic impacts and 2. those impacts would be harder to mitigate. Fear fuelled by spikes in infections and by waves of overwhelmed health and emergency services would be devastating to the economy more so than measures because business would have no framework around which to plan. This is a point I’ve been talking around on a few occasions when looking at different national strategies: they actually need to be strategies that result in confidence from the population. Capitalist economies absolutely require public confidence to function. Lockdowns or not, a population (or even just a proportion of a population) needs to have confidence in the short-term future to keep spending and to keep the economy going.

The second aspect of the fallacy, is that lockdown measures can be guaranteed to be avoided. That is not the case. A nation or a state might get lucky and with a low starting rate of infection and a top-notch healthcare structure, avoid infection rates soaring to the points were they face an imminent collapse of healthcare provision (thus compounding deaths) but once infection rates do hit extreme levels then absolutely you are going to end up with far more extreme quarantine measures. Avoiding those extremes is why more moderate measures to keep infection rates lower make sense.

But, but what about famine! Firstly let’s go back to the fallacy one. Getting your local bookstore to re-open isn’t going to get wheat to southern Africa*. The pandemic itself is disrupting the economy but also, measures beyond the personal impact that the anti-lockdown protests are moaning about would also need to be lifted (eg movement of seasonal farm workers). That doesn’t mean we should collectivity shrug our shoulders about the impacts of the virus. On the contrary, anti-pandemic measures REQUIRE measures to mitigate the economic impact of the pandemic. Such measures include trying to reduce financial insecurity or food insecurity. However, that takes us to the other big fallacy that Larry leaves unspoken:

FALLACY TWO: The libertarian fallacy. The only solution to poor economic outcomes is more free-markets and the government can only make things worse.

It is, of course, bollocks. Aside from the more genuine (and fringe) libertarians, the pseudo-libertarians like Larry carve out a big exemption to this clause for the military and for war. As I’ve discussed before, this is because they are fine with the idea of the state being a punitive body. What they object to is the state ever helping people. Yet here we are in a circumstance that the best thing to do if you want CAPITALISM to keep going is for the government to hand people free money.

Of course that is much easier said than done in a nation where decades of effort has gone into demonising any support from government and making the process of government as ungainly (and as punitive) as possible. Buying into Reagan’s malicious lie (or pandering to it as the Democratic Party has done) for decades means that the US doesn’t have social infrastructure or the healthcare infrastructure to cope with either a pandemic OR to cope with the impact of measures to mitigate a pandemic.

Which takes me to Larry’s third unspoken fallacy — the other unwritten error made visible by the obvious gaps in his thinking:

FALLACY THREE: The nationalist fallacy. International cooperation is not possible.

There is potential famine, there are crops. This is not an unsolvable problem but nor is it a simple problem. In a different timeline, it would be exactly the sort of problem that a nation with a huge food production industry, a strong central executive government structure and huge international influence could do a lot to solve. Unfortunately, America currently is led by somebody incapable**. Yet, while America’s capacity to act is hampered, that doesn’t mean international cooperation is impossible. Physical international trade hasn’t ceased. Working around the impact of a pandemic isn’t impossible but it requires nations acting in concert.

Of course, when we put fallacy two and three together, the ideological implications become a bit clearer.

  • If government could mitigate economic down turns during a pandemic…then they could do so in other kinds of recessions.
  • If government could intervene to help people get the care they need during a pandemic…then they could do so at any time.
  • If government can help reduce world hunger during a pandemic…then they could do so whenever people were going hungry.
  • If governments around the world can act collectively during a pandemic…then they could do so with other global issues such as…

As I pointed out over a month ago, one major advantage Australia has had (aside from being an island obviously) during this pandemic was the 2007 general election. When the global financial crisis hit, the government of the day went full into stimulus measures rather than austerity measures (or half-hearted stimulus). The resulting relatively mild impact of the GFC shifted the conventional economic wisdom in Canberra to ‘in case of emergency spend money’. Consequently the conservative-leaning government here could politically ditch their existing economic policy and start spending. That doesn’t mean the economic impact of the pandemic has been easy in Australia but it does mean it is so much easier to get people on board with the measures. That means, maybe (and we’ve still got winter to go) Australia will be able to get back to a BAU economy quicker.

But let’s return to Larry Correia’s bullshit. It is, frankly, bullshit. He has a fairly obvious tell when he’s bullshitting because most of the time he’s big on how well-off he is and ideologically he’s very much in the rugged-individualist if you are well off it’s because you worked hard and who gives a shit about other countries etc etc. So when he starts chiding people for living in ‘comfy homes’ or starts crocodile tears about ‘guy who lost his job, business, and is worried about losing his house, or how he’s gonna feed his kids’ or third-world hunger, you have to wonder why the guy who lost his job before the pandemic (and was worried about losing his house, his healthcare etc) or the level of food insecurity not just in developing nations but in his own nation never warranted his concern?

I can’t even given him points for originality. The sudden concern for developing nations from people who normally are disparaging about them has been a feature of people arguing against measure to combat global warming for decades. The argument has been that limitations on fossil fuels will hamper developing economies. Of course, this argument is also accompanied by a claim that isn’t fair if more prosperous nations have to have stricter emission reduction targets because fallacy-mongers love nothing more than both having their cake and eating it to.

BUT the other big tell is there utter lack of substance in his post. It is nothing but chiding of imaginary people. There is a vacuum at the centre. No genuine analysis but also zero solutions. He offers no way forward nor does he even have the intestinal fortitude to even side explicitly with the anti-lockdown protestors. It’s no difference to his anti-anti-Trump stance: ever keen to establish that he personally doesn’t like Trump but forever wagging his primary-school-principal fingers at the naughty children who ever dare criticise Trump. It is simply political cowardice.

*[Worth pointing out that he didn’t even read the article he was pointing to which states:

“This hunger crisis, experts say, is global and caused by a multitude of factors linked to the coronavirus pandemic and the ensuing interruption of the economic order: the sudden loss in income for countless millions who were already living hand-to-mouth; the collapse in oil prices; widespread shortages of hard currency from tourism drying up; overseas workers not having earnings to send home; and ongoing problems like climate change, violence, population dislocations and humanitarian disasters.”

https://www.nytimes.com/2020/04/22/world/africa/coronavirus-hunger-crisis.html

*[ I initially wrote ‘…incapable of’ and was wondering what word to use next and then realised it didn’t need the ‘of’.]

Review: Middlegame by Seanan McGuire (Hugo 2020 Finalist)

This novel is both like and utterly unlike McGuire’s Wayward Children series. If you’ve read those connected novellas, you will see the DNA of them in Middlegame. There’s that same interest in the long term fate of children caught up in sinister magical plots, the same love and faith in the power of children’s stories (exemplified by the snippets from the connected story-within-the-story Over the Woodward Wall) and the same interest in the sibling relationship as an alternate dynamic for an emotional arc.

However, while manifestly the work of the same author, this is also quite a different story — much stronger both in character development and plot and not just because it is novel length.

An American alchemist, John Reed (himself a being created by his predecessor alchemist Asphodel Baker) sets out to gain the ultimate power of the universe by embodying alchemical principles in two people. Like a binary chemical weapon, the concept is to divide the controlling principles of the universe into two halves that while separate are relative quiescent but when brought together will gain ultimate power over the universe. By keeping these twinned-people apart, Reed seeks to maintain control over this ultimate power known as the Doctrine of Ethos.

The alchemical principles behind Reed’s plan had already been laid out in public encoded in the plot of Asphodel Baker children’s book series “Over the Woodward Wall” a kind of Oz like series of books from the same time period as Baum’s books (indeed late within Middlegame we learn that the Oz books are a kind of alchemical counter-attack to Baker’s plans).

Reed has multiple such experiments running, with sets of twins in different circumstances to see which ones will most readily adapt into suitable vessels for his plans…

Which takes us to the unfortunately named Roger and Dodger (their names are a plot point). We meet them as children, both adopted by academic families one on the east coast of the US and one on the west. Roger is a precocious but quiet child with a gift for words and language. Dodger is equally precocious but more boisterous (and less sociable) with a gift for arithmetic and mathematics. They discover each other via telepathy and vague memories of having had imaginary friends in their childhood with those same names (i.e. Dodger’s father reminds her that she had an imaginary friend called Roger).

The story follows Roger and Dodger through childhood, adolescence and college as life, fate and the secret machinations of the sinister John Reed (and his acolytes) pull them apart and draw them together again. We know from the chapter sub-titles and flash-forward chapters that there are timeline shenanigans going on and that, at some point, Roger and Dodger will find themselves on the Improbable Road to the Impossible City just like the two equally twinned-but-mismatched characters in Over the Woodward Wall.

Their life story is distressing and heartfelt. There is a very upsetting section around self-harm/suicide that needs to be flagged up front. Obviously the issue around the alienation and loneliness that gifted children can feel is a repeated aspect of the story. Dodger’s use of chess as a means to take part in the world in a structured way mirrors the plots around the main characters.

A weaker aspect of the story is John Reed is a very one-dimensional villain. Asphodel Baker also remains something of an enigma even once the story is resolved, with the implication of Reed being morally quite different but also Reed himself being an instrument of Baker’s wider scheme.

Better developed is Reed’s proxy Erin: an earlier experiment in creating twins that embody a dichotomy, she is a manifestation of order and her (murdered) twin of chaos. A ruthless assassin but also a wry observer of the world around her who has an incomplete sense of the bigger picture around her and enough fragments of morality to save a cat in an earthquake (partly precipitated by Erin murdering a mutual friend).

The broad theme and structure (following two complimentary characters through childhood to adulthood each of whom are drawn to two different perspectives and organising principles and stories) is very akin to Charlie Jane Anders’s All the Birds in the Sky. Quite different plots in other ways but they are unlike two different essays on a related topic.

Overall, this is a very strong contender for this year’s Hugo Award for Best Novel. I haven’t read a lot of McGuire’s work (mainly the Wayward Children) and I know she has a very broad range but this is easily the strongest thing I’ve read by her. Her command of prose is always strong but she has taken many familiar elements from her work here and found a balance between them to really elevate the sum of those parts into something alchemicaly stronger.

I listened to the audiobook version read by Amber Benson, which was overall good but I found the tone she adopted for the villainous Reed and his underling a bit too OTT and that may have shaped my impression of them as a bit lacking in characterisation.

Hugo 2020 Shorts: Conclusion

I’ve read and reviewed all of the 2020 Hugo Short Story finalists and it is quite a bundle of talent but also a bit of a nightmare to rank them. Here they are unranked to begin with:

Some of the best writing isn’t in the stories I enjoyed the most and there is an overall consistency in quality but no single standout story for me. The downside of that is that easiest way to distinguish the stories is to focus on what didn’t work for me. Prognosticating who will win is a thankless task: I’ve no idea – it could be any one of these. The result will be down to which one clicked with people more than others.

  1. “Ten excerpts from an Annotated Bibliography on the Cannibal Women of Ratnabar Island”, Nibedita Sen. I think I’ve made clear how much I love stories that play with structure and form and this is another great example. As nothing is ever confirmed and every claim about events is distanced by quotes about accounts about stories, the sense of mystery is heightened.
  2. “Blood Is Another Word for Hunger”, Rivers Solomon. A despairing fever dream of a story that somehow works its way around to comfort and hope. I didn’t think I liked this story and then by the end I loved it.
  3. “And Now His Lordship Is Laughing”, Shiv Ramdas. Maybe the story with the simplest narrative. It has the style of a 1950s magazine short, a simple tale simply told leading to a punchy end. You could imagine it as an episode on classic TV anthology series, (except for the specific historical setting not being something that the Twilight Zone etc would engage with).
  4. “Do Not Look Back, My Lion”, Alix E. Harrow. I don’t know, maybe this should be number 1 [holds up hands in exasperation at trying to rank these stories]. I’d pay good money for the novel this is the Chapter 1 of.
  5. “As the Last I May Know”, S.L. Huang. Beautifully written but right now I’m not ready for the sadness of this story.
  6. “A Catalog of Storms” , Fran Wilde. Arguably this is the best piece of writing craft in the list. However the pieces of it and the setting just never clicked for me. I didn’t feel part of this world of malign weather. If this one wins I’ll happily applaud it.

I could easily come up with a rational for any other ranking here. Maybe “Cannibal Women” isn’t SF/F enough (there’s a credible argument as all the weird elements are second or third hand) and maybe “Now His Lordship” isn’t twisty enough? Maybe “Blood is Another Word for Hunger” is just a bit TOO much! I don’t know!

Overall? I could have done with at least one story with a bit more humour. Last year we had “The Rose MacGregor Drinking and Admiration Society” and “…the Three Beautiful Raptor Sisters…”. However, I’d struggle to pick out a story in the six we have that would need to go. Of the Nebula finalists this year, I would have liked to see “How the Trick Is Done” by A.C. Wise on the ballot.

Worlds Enough and Tim

[Scene: The drawing room of Felapton Towers – Reality ℥℔Ωℨ 2017, during the unfortunate Weasel Flu Pandemic of that year during the presidency of ¡Jeb! Bush and the Prime Ministership of the Right Honourable Cilla Black]

[Camestros (sleeping)] zzzzz
[Timothy the Talking Cat] Wake up! Wake up! Time for the daily Zoom meeting!
[Camestros] Whaaa…huh…oh, it’s you. Oh, good grief are we doing the online meeting thing again?
[Timothy] PMs orders! All workplaces are REMOTE workplaces and that includes my publishing house.
[Camestros] Yes but you are literally sitting on my lap.
[Timothy] It’s the only place I can reach the laptop that is next to you on the lounge.
(Timothy click “Join Meeting” and after a short but somehow annoyingly long time a Zoom meeting starts. Camestros does the same with his phone. As the meeting starts an ungodly howl omits from both devices.)
[Camestros] Aggh! Turn off the mic! Turn off the audio!
[Timothy] I did that already.
[Camestros] So what was that howling?
[Timothy] You were sitting on my tail.
[Camestros] (grumbles under his breath) So, “boss”, what’s this meeting about?
[Timothy] Well I think we need a holiday.
[Camestros] Yeah but [moves hands to indicate the whole current state of the world] an appalling pandemic that has but the whole world in lockdown. Even the pubs are closed. Even the creepy dry-cleaners is closed and that was even open to begin with.
[Timothy] Ah ha! But I have found the solution…we can escape from all this ON A CRUISE SHIP!
[Camestros] Hmm, well, let me count the ways that is an appalling idea. 1. cruise ships are, even on a good year without a global plague of biblical proportions, floating Petri dishes of disease. 2. I can’t swim. 3. You can’t swim and you hate boats. 3. If we get on a cruise liner I will sing the theme tune to The Love Boat and you will attempt to claw out my vocal claws as a result. 4. Do you KNOW how many people just fall off cruise ships every year and NOBODY notices? It is like A LOT! Good grief, sometimes the crew just throw away the luggage in apparently abandoned rooms and don’t tell anybody. 5. You get cross with me whenever I try to explain the connection between Jordan Peterson and the film of the Poseiden Adventure at the best of times. A cruise is just one long giant social event and you know how I’ll get and that will be the ONLY topic of conversation I’ll be able to think of. 6. I’m pretty confident all the cruise line companies have gone bust. 7. …
[Timothy] …shut that pie hole for a moment, please! This isn’t a regular cruise! It’s not a cruise on the sea! It is a cruise ship of THE IMAGINATION!
[Camestros] Gasp! Tell me more…

More Cruise Ship hi-Jinks below